This year was the first Easter Gentry and Hadley Eddings had to face without their 2-year-old son, Dobbs. They also lost their newborn son, Reed, to the same tractor trailer/car crash that took Dobbs' life on May 23 last year, however they've embraced the promise of Easter as they work to resurrect their lives. Following Jesus' example, the couple has forgiven the 28-year-old truck driver who caused the wreck, and found peace in their certainty they will see their sons again in heaven.
Gentry is a campus pastor of Charlotte's Forest Hill Church, a nondenominational and theologically conservative church with five campuses. Hadley teaches in the church's pre-school. The Eddings ability to forgive has inspired a church community helping the couple cope with their loss, as well as those around the world who've encountered their story. It also touched the prosecutor who put the man who killed their children in prison.
"Their faith has not been shaken, it has been deepened," Benjamin David, the district attorney from Wilmington who prosecuted the driver, told The Charlotte Observer.
David said his office handles 75,000 cases a year, but he has never seen the level of compassion that he has witnessed from the Eddings. "This couple has about them a peace that passes all understanding. I would love to believe that any of us would have that capacity to forgive. It is so rare."
"In the book the Eddings read and believe, the Bible, they know the end of the story. And in the end of the story, love wins," said David.
Gentry, 29, and Hadley, 28, grew up devout Christians, but their spiritual commitment wavered during college. However, the two married on May 23, 2009. Four years later on Feb. 12, 2013, Gentry Dobbs Eddings III was born.
The Eddings were on their way to Gentry's sister's wedding when Hadley's vehicle in their family's caravan was hit by a tractor-trailer driver who was driving under the influence of heroin. Dobbs was killed instantly, according to paramedics. Hadley, who was eight months pregnant, was taken to the hospital for an emergency caesarian. Their unborn baby, Reed, had suffered head trauma when Hadley's body was forced into the steering wheel. He didn't recover from bleeding around the brain, and the Eddings took him off life support.
The day on which the accident happened, May 23, also was the Eddings' sixth wedding anniversary.
Hadley's words to the truck driver, closer to his sentencing were: "From the day this happened, I've been very concerned about you. While losing my children has been the most devastating thing of my entire life, I know - without a doubt - that they are in heaven and that they are whole and that they are perfect. So I look at you and I say, I want you to have that, too. "I'm not mad at you. I forgive you. I want you to be rehabilitated. I want you to have a good life - I don't want this to be the end for you."
Gentry's words were: "Words cannot describe how important (Dobbs and Reed) are to us ... Our resurrection hope is to see them again. And that gives us hope. So we understand the magnitude of what's happened. With that in mind, I just wanted you to know that, as Hadley said, we know that it was not your intention for them to die ... That is significant and meaningful for me and for Hadley. Still mistakes were made that led us to this place. But I want you to know that I sincerely forgive you completely."
The truck driver responsible for the accident is serving 15 to 32 months in a state prison near Wilmington, according to The Charlotte Observer.
"We will always miss and long for our boys," Gentry said. "But the thing I love about Easter and spring is that you actually see life bursting around you and I think that God is giving us the visual reminder that resurrection -- death bursting to life -- is right here in front us.
"That gives me a lot of hope."
They are also comforted that their sons aren't forgotten. Even at such tender ages, they've left a legacy.
Approximately $100,000 in donations has been collected since the wreck and sent to the nonprofit group that Forest Hill partners with to help Haiti. Part of it, the Eddings recently learned, will build a nine-room cinderblock school in the seaside village of Minoterie. They'll call it The Dobbs and Reed Grade School.